Fifty Shades of Black (2016)

(Netflix Streaming, November 2016) I’m nearly always willing to give spoofs a chance (well, except for the Seltzer/Freidberg stuff, which is just terrible no matter what), but while I gave cautiously favourable reviews to Marlon Wayans’ two A Haunted House spoofs, there’s no such joy to be found in his Fifty Shades of Black, a dull retelling of Fifty Shades of Gray (the movie, not the book) without much wit or humour. You may reasonably argue that it’s hard to do anything with that source material, but that’s not entirely true—Fifty Shades of Black’s best moments come when it questions the source material and gives more agency to the female protagonist. More along that vein (and something beyond simply complaining about the prose in the original book) could have done wonders to make the film better. As it now stands, however, Fifty Shades of Black has too little material to play with: By solely riffing on the original film and not bringing in more sources of inspiration, the film is reduced to an exasperating scene by scene walkthrough of the original, with a comedic approach that quickly becomes predictable. The two A Haunted House could at least vary their approach by switching from one source of inspiration to another, and thus impose some coherence to their approach rather than being subservient (if using that word is appropriate in this context) to the original. Even at barely more than 90 minutes, Fifty Shades of Black feels far too long. This being said, it’s sort of remarkable that neither Marlon Wayans nor Kali Hawk come across too badly as performers: Hawk in particular seems game to try anything in service of a laugh, while Wayans remains very likable as a comedian even given the lines he’s written for himself. It’s a shame that he doesn’t try to get better material.

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